Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Lora Trilogy is complete at last!

It was about ten years ago when I first started to crystallize the plan…

            I’d always wanted to write Science Fiction novels for kids. When I was a kid there was a lot of a terrific books to explore if monsters and robots and other planets were your thing. One of the longest, most ‘grown-up’ books I read when I was seven was the official tie-in novel for ‘Star Wars.’ The following year this was superceded by ‘Battlestar Galactica’, which was even better. And both were far better than the movies.

            Before I ever read HG Wells and John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury I read Puffin SF books by Nicholas Fisk and John Christopher. These were books that put kids – kids like me! – right in the middle of SF stories. It was everyday kids who lived on estates who were realizing Granny had been replaced by an alien replicant. It was kids like those at our school who were taken off in UFOs to join a Galactic Federation against a common foe.

            When I graduated from the Children’s to the Adult section of our town library, it was the SF bookcase that acted as my ladder. James Blish, Philip K Dick, Anne McCaffrey gave me the leg-up I needed into adult fiction. But I found that, to me, adult SF wasn’t as exciting as I had been expecting. Where had all the fun gone..? Sometimes it seemed that the dull, jaded, disappointed grown-ups from any old grown-up novel lived in the future, and other planets and other dimensions, too.

            So, amongst the many other ambitions I’ve ever had for books I want to write, jostling away for years was this idea of a science fiction trilogy for kids, with kids at the heart of it. In my head it was colourful and melodramatic and exotic. It would be about a family and kids who had to take the lead when their parents couldn’t look after everyone anymore. It was about kids being at the heart of an adventure that could span across an entire alien world…

            It took some doing to figure it all out. I didn’t really sit down and start to make notes and draw up plans till about eight years ago… I let things gestate for a long time before writing anything at all.

            I knew that I wanted them to be recognizable kids in any age, any era, any town or city. The slightly tomboyish, bookish yet practical girl who narrates the whole thing. Lora was the cornerstone of the whole trilogy and once I could hear her voice in my head, I knew I could start. She’s sometimes snappish and peevish, but she’s alert and amazed and full of the capacity for wonder as she embarks on these adventures. She’s both excited by the challenge, but sometimes exasperated by her companions.

            I just knew she had to have an irksome, but ultimately loyal, little brother. And a much younger sister that she adores.

            And a family robot who has looked after them all for many years. Toaster is a sun bed with pretentions to be an intellectual and a gallant knight of olden days. Together with Lora’s grandmother and her grandmother’s family and friends, he was one of the first settlers on the planet Mars, some sixty years ago.

            Or so they thought…

            Because they weren’t the first to come here. Almost two hundred years before the Prairie settlers, the British came to Mars. The came secretly, only a few at a time, and they came by bus…

            By Celestial Omnibuses launched from the secret dockyard on Tyneside. Victorians came to Mars and built a city of green glass, which still stands, and which Lora and her family discover a little way into their adventures. It’s a city filled with wonderful and terrifying secrets. A city ruled by the cruel authorities and haunted by Martian Ghosts…

            This was the backstory and the kind of detail I was accumulating and building up…

            With each new day that I sat down to think and plan, my history of Mars was falling into place, bit by bit.

            Then, come autumn 2012 I was ready to write the first volume: ‘Lost on Mars.’ I wrote it in pencil, in notebooks given to me by friends, at our kitchen table. (The gift books seemed important. It was a superstitious thing – I was going to fill every page of every notebook I’d been given in the past two years. It felt as if I was repaying my friends’ faith in my writing.)

            It took a year for that book to be finished and, when it went out to be read by editors it was frustrating because some wanted it to be just about the quiet life on the Martian prairie. They wanted domestic detail in outer space and smaller, everyday excitements. They didn’t want the Martian Ghosts and jelly beasts and the odyssey across the desert. And then, at the same time, other editors wanted it to be less detailed and more of a rompy adventure.

            Neither option was any good to me, really, because what I was set on writing was a literary adventure story, with real, unique characters having strange and complicated, thrilling adventures. I wanted all the feels as well as all the thrills and I wanted to make readers think.

            Luckily, at last, Firefly saw the point of it all.

            Penny and Janet at Firefly press were about a year into starting their new children’s list, and I’ll be forever grateful that they picked up my Lora trilogy – just when more mainstream publishers had had me thinking it was too ambiguously odd and idiosyncratic to work.

            It’s been a battle to get it out there, and to get the books noticed. Small press stuff doesn’t get the breaks or the table displays that other books do. You have to grasp every opportunity you can to read or talk or go on about your book. You don’t take anything for granted. We were very lucky in that Amanda Craig was an immediate champion of Lora – best kids’ SF since Patrick Ness, she said, straight away. And SF Said gave us a fabulous, serious-minded review in the Guardian. He saw ‘Lost on Mars’ as part of a wave of new SF for kids. I love the idea of that. SF for kids that reads as excitingly to them as the stories in ‘The Armada Sci-Fi Series’ did to me. That reads as astoundingly weird as Michael Moorcock did to me when I started branching out from my Dr Who novelizations…

            So – it’s 2018 – and the final volume in my trilogy is published this week. ‘The Heart of Mars’ completes the full story of how Lora comes to reunite her family. She learns all the buried secrets of the various settlers on Mars and the Ancients in their hidden labyrinth, and she’s built up a new family of unusual and surprising friends, too.

            It feels strange to be standing at the very furthest edge of this saga now, waving them all off.

            But it means it’s all complete now.

            It means that you can finish the whole thing, too.

            I remember what it was like as a kid – reading a series that I was mad keen to finish. I remember looking at the time when I finished a book – seeing it was ten past five, and calculating that if I ran to the town precinct I should just about be able to catch the newsagent before it closed, and ransack their paperback carousel for the next volume in the set…

            So… I’m hoping that now this trilogy is done, and is whole and complete, people will come to discover Lora and her friends – human, robotic and Martian – on the surface of my mysterious Mars.

            Here and now is a good time for you to start off on this adventure, and I hope you’ll all enjoy it.

Friday, 9 March 2018

My Sister's Birthday

1987. My sister’s birthday.
            2018: We’re in Manchester city centre at tea time. Just getting out of the house for a couple of hours on a chilly Wednesday in March. I’m up to my eyes in my book. Tomorrow I should get to the end of the first draft. I’ve three thousand more words to write. My head is filled with murder mystery and I can hear the squeaking of loose ends being tied up, and the crunching of plot logic as everything falls into place at last.
            In Oxfam on Oldham Street we’re browsing through rubbish and old tat. Jeremy buys a vinyl copy of The Rocky Horror Show original Broadway cast album. It even has the lyric sheet tucked inside the gatefold. Very jammy.
            As we wander towards the Arndale Centre I’m telling him that when I was a teenager there were three Rocky Horror records that were essential: the movie soundtrack, then the 1973 London Cast, then the New York one. They were all brilliant.
            Straight away I’m remembering those wonderful days of thinking Rocky Horror was the most fabulous, subversive thing I had ever seen. Loving the music, the lyrics, the message, the visual feel of the whole thing.           
            Christmas 1986 and sitting in the attic cinema of Darlington Art Centre. I had no idea what I was about to see. Why were people in fishnet stockings and lab coats? Why did they have water pistols and why was everyone carrying on like they were about to go to a party rather than sitting down and watching a film..?
            I was there with Nicola, Michael and Katherine. They already knew about the whole thing. They’d been before, I think. Nicola had her red hair crimped like Magenta and her eyes were made up just the same.
            Then… March the following year. It was freezing and snowy. The same gang of us were in Darlington, getting a lift from Nicola’s dad. We were off to the Civic: that squashed wedding cake of a theatre. Gold and red plush inside, just the same as when I saw Paddington at five and Arturo Ui at eleven.
            This time Rocky Horror was live and I was dressed up too – a little bit. As much as I dared. My mam’s Japanese maternity shirt and my Absolute Beginners mac and hat. That night I bought a red Rocky Horror T shirt. It seems really odd to think that, back then, a bright red t-shirt was a daring item in my wardrobe…!
            It was the night that Louise was born!
            It was while we were off to see Rocky Horror, the messages were coming in from Bishop Auckland hospital.
            My Big Nanna answered the phone: ‘It’s a girl! It’s a girl!’ I remember her hopping up and down.
            So, as I remember it, I heard the news just before I set off for the theatre that night. I used to get picked up on the main drag of Woodham Way by Nicola and her dad, and I jumped in the car and told the others. I can see their bright faces looking back at me. Nicola and Katherine with glittery eye shadow on. Grinning as I told them I had a new sister.
            Then we zoomed off to Darlington down the snowy motorway, off to see Rocky Horror.
            It’s one of those nights you never forget. And just as I’m telling Jeremy the story (and he must have heard it many times before) I realise that, of course, it’s today. It’s her birthday. And it was thirty-one years ago exactly. I’m even telling him as the clock comes round to 6pm – and I think: Happy birthday, Louise.
            In my diary I wrote: ‘Wonderful day. My mam was taken to hospital this morning – had Louise after a struggle at 6.30pm. Eight-and-a-half pounds! Rocky Horror Show at Darlington Civic – brilliant. Home in the snow in Nicola’s car, with ‘We are the Champions’ in the dark.’
            We went by taxi the next day, Sunday, ‘to see Louise (named this day.) Red and crumpled and hairy and sneezing. She’s lovely. Mark had bought a big blue Gummi bear for her. My nanna wouldn’t put her down.’
We took lots of photos in the ward. I remember that her feet were very long and red. They poked out of the blanket and they looked so new and, I realized: of course! They’ve never been walked on yet. It was such a surprising thought. Feet that had never been walked on. They were waxy-looking and brand new.


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Twenty Years of Writing Dr Who

This month it's exactly 20 years since my first foray into Dr Who fiction. It was 'Old Flames' in the very first volume of 'Short Trips.' How strange - all this time later and I'm still doing odd bits of Dr Who.
This month there's my story in 'The Missy Chronicles' and my audiobook, 'The Thing from the Sea.' There's also a story called 'The Runaway Hi-Fi' in 'A Second Target for Tommy.' And at the end of the month I'm flying to Regen Who 4 in Baltimore to be with a huge gang of Who people to talk about my writing and teach a couple of writing workshops. The Who world is a nice one to be a part of - even on the tie-in fringes!

Just picking out one story / audio / drama per year for the past twenty years I've come up with this List of Terror:

1998 – Scarlet Empress
1999 – Blue Angel
2000 – Verdigris
2001 – Stones of Venice
2002 – Mad Dogs
2003 – The Wormery
2004 – Suitors, Inc
2005 – The Wickerwork Man
2006 – The Horror of Glam Rock
2007 – Sick Building
2008 – The Boy That Time Forgot
2009 – Hornet’s Nest
2010 – Demon Quest
2011 – Serpent Crest
2012 – Grimmsworld / Chaos Makers (unreleased!)
2013 – Lady of Mercia
2014 – The Annual Years
2015 – The Peterloo Massacre
2016 – Baker’s End
2017 – Tales of Terror
2018 – The Thing From the Sea

Grandma Guignol!

Listen to Anne Reid as Brenda and Effie - for free..!

"It's Like American Horror Story meets Hettie Wainthrop!"  - Ian Hayles. 

Here's a new podcast from Bafflegab which they (and I!) would very much like you to subscribe to. We promised you'll love it.
Here's Bafflegab's introduction...

Today we’re launching our very first podcast: Grandma Guignol. 

Told over eight weekly episodes, it’s the story of a strange new landlady in the seaside town of Whitby: a lady with a tall black beehive, nasty scars about her person and a very chequered past...

Some of you might recognise the description as being uncannily similar to The Brenda and Effie Mysteries, a series we released a couple of years ago, starring Anne Reid and written by Paul Magrs.

That’s because that’s exactly what this is! Despite getting great reviews, and picking up Gold at the New York Radio Awards, almost no-one heard it. So we’re hoping to give it a new lease of life as a podcast. If it gets enough listeners, then we’re also hoping that maybe we’ll be able to make another series. 

But it's all down to you. We need you to subscribe on iTunes, and get us up the charts. Please, please do... every subscriber counts!

Subscribe here:

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The Return of Mrs Wibbsey!

Published today by BBC Audio...! It's... the return of Mrs Wibbsey...! (After seven years!)

"It’s not everyone who could cope with such a culture shock. I kept my head down and settled into my role as housekeeper to that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as ‘The Doctor.’
"Actually, I had a few other names for him besides that, but they weren’t ones I would usually use to his face. Truth be told, I didn’t see him all that often. His visits to Nest Cottage had become fleeting and rather more infrequent in recent years. If I’m honest, the place had become too quiet for my liking..."